Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 5, 2012

What Are They Going to Do About Debbie?

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not having a good convention. The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein busted her yesterday. Klein reported that DWS falsely claimed that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had told her that what Republicans were doing “was dangerous for Israel.” Oren flatly denied that he said it. DWS then went on Fox to claim that Klein was misquoting her and that she never quoted Oren in that manner. Of course she had and Klein had the audio to prove it.

That earned her a “pants on fire” truth rating from PoliticFact but unfortunately when she next appeared on national television she wasn’t asked about it. Yet CNN’s convention floor interview with DWS was not without some interest. Wasserman Schultz was asked about the embarrassing moment earlier that night when a majority of Democratic delegates seemed to vote no on changing their platform to include God and reaffirm support for Israel on Jerusalem. With a straight face Wasserman Schultz not only falsely claimed there had been a two-thirds majority for the change, she insisted that Jerusalem had actually never been taken out of the original draft! While politicians like DWS are used to lying with impunity and not being called on it, when CNN cut back to the commentators in the booth, her statements were met with incredulity and laughter.

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Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not having a good convention. The Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein busted her yesterday. Klein reported that DWS falsely claimed that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had told her that what Republicans were doing “was dangerous for Israel.” Oren flatly denied that he said it. DWS then went on Fox to claim that Klein was misquoting her and that she never quoted Oren in that manner. Of course she had and Klein had the audio to prove it.

That earned her a “pants on fire” truth rating from PoliticFact but unfortunately when she next appeared on national television she wasn’t asked about it. Yet CNN’s convention floor interview with DWS was not without some interest. Wasserman Schultz was asked about the embarrassing moment earlier that night when a majority of Democratic delegates seemed to vote no on changing their platform to include God and reaffirm support for Israel on Jerusalem. With a straight face Wasserman Schultz not only falsely claimed there had been a two-thirds majority for the change, she insisted that Jerusalem had actually never been taken out of the original draft! While politicians like DWS are used to lying with impunity and not being called on it, when CNN cut back to the commentators in the booth, her statements were met with incredulity and laughter.

Anderson Cooper quickly said she was clearly operating in “an alternate universe.” The rest of the crew laughed along and noted the brazen matter in which she misrepresented the issue and the truth.

As for her lie about Oren, Fox News, the network where she had falsely accused Phil Klein of distorting her words, did revisit the issue and played the audio of her quote in which she lied about the Israeli ambassador’s opinion of the GOP. They were not able to snag an interview with her but noted her spokesman was still trying to claim that she had been taken out of context even after the audiotape proved the contrary.

All of which leads us to ask what exactly are the Democrats to do about DWS? As the rumors out of Washington indicate, there’s little doubt President Obama’s inner circle is unhappy about her performance at the DNC. Some of their criticism of her whiny partisanship is unfair. As party chair, she’s supposed to be a whiny partisan. But getting caught in barefaced lies is something else.

We expect politicians to spin reality to conform to their political views. Indeed most of what we have heard from the two conventions is nothing but spin. It may be hard for Congress, the parties and the political system to sink any lower in the eyes of the public, but if it is at all possible, the spectacle of DWS lying to the cameras, and then being laughed at by a group of commentators on a network friendly to the Democrats, must do it.

Wasserman Shultz has a safe Democratic Congressional seat and is in no danger of losing it. But her record of public deceit is catching up with her. The day is coming when she will no longer be able to continue to traipse about the country pretending to represent her party and American Jews without being called out for these lies.

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Re: Democratic Delegates Boo “Jerusalem”

The Democratic platform once again acknowledges Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but the reinstitution of the language in question (and the reinstituted reference to God) was more alarming than the initial change. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for Yeas and Nays on the decision he found a roughly even split among delegates. After repeating the process two more times, a befuddled Villaraigosa was visited on stage by a party official who seemingly advised him to declare the needed two-thirds in favor of the change regardless of what the delegates actually conveyed. This he promptly did, eliciting a wave of boos.

Let the paranoia begin. For the professional alarmists who see an all-powerful Israel lobby lurking behind every bush, rock, and cloud, today’s debacle is a goldmine. What could be a greater demonstration of the Israel Lobby’s dangerous subversion of American democracy than the sham vote at the Democratic National Convention that saw pro-Israel language shoved into the party platform over the heads of party delegates?

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The Democratic platform once again acknowledges Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but the reinstitution of the language in question (and the reinstituted reference to God) was more alarming than the initial change. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for Yeas and Nays on the decision he found a roughly even split among delegates. After repeating the process two more times, a befuddled Villaraigosa was visited on stage by a party official who seemingly advised him to declare the needed two-thirds in favor of the change regardless of what the delegates actually conveyed. This he promptly did, eliciting a wave of boos.

Let the paranoia begin. For the professional alarmists who see an all-powerful Israel lobby lurking behind every bush, rock, and cloud, today’s debacle is a goldmine. What could be a greater demonstration of the Israel Lobby’s dangerous subversion of American democracy than the sham vote at the Democratic National Convention that saw pro-Israel language shoved into the party platform over the heads of party delegates?

The reality of the situation, however, is both more interesting and more frightening than intrepid Zionist-spotters would have you believe. Today, America got an unvarnished look at the Democratic Party’s internal conflict on Israel. Half of the Party represents the pro-Israel consensus in America. The other half? Not so much. For all the talk about the unrecognizably extreme new Republican Party, it’s the Democrats whose fringe has quietly made deep inroads into the center—especially when it concerns Israel—and fundamentally altered the nature of the Party.

When Villaraigosa heard the split vote he looked like a performer suddenly forced to work off-script—because that’s exactly what he was. The Democratic script is composed of declarations about America’s special relationship with Israel, the continued U.S. commitment to Israeli security, and the unbreakable bonds that unite Israelis and Americans against common foes. Democratic politicians can rattle off those proclamations in their sleep. What the Israel-Lobby paranoids ignore is that it’s all meant to satisfy the majority American opinion of support for Israel, not appease some shifty cabal of wealthy bigots.

Today’s fiasco might do tremendous damage to Jewish support for Democrats but it will certainly open a new chapter in anti-Israel paranoia. The Democrats, including Barack Obama, will take hits coming and going: from Israel supporters whose eyes have been opened to the nature of the Democratic Party and from Israel bashers who see the Zionist hand behind the convention chaos. Such is the price paid for a party divided.

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Democratic Delegates Boo “Jerusalem”

Under pressure from pro-Israel Democrats, the DNC held a floor vote to reinstate language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel that had been omitted from its 2012 platform. The stadium full of Democratic delegates loudly booed the resolution and rejected it three times in a voice vote, before convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa went ahead and unilaterally approved it (h/t BuzzFeed):

It’s hard not to have sympathy for Villaraigosa. Pro-Israel Democrats have been lobbying the DNC all day to change the platform, and convention leadership probably assumed this vote would be the end of it. The shock on Villaraigosa’s face shows you how far in denial the Democratic Party has been about the anti-Israel sentiment spreading among its ranks. Think he’s picturing how many TV ads replaying this moment Sheldon Adelson’s money can buy in Florida?

This video should chill every pro-Israel Democrat to the bone — actually, scratch that, it should chill every pro-Israel American to the bone. Israel relies on bipartisan political support from the U.S., it’s strongest ally. This floor vote at the DNC portends a day when that bipartisan support may cease to exist.

Under pressure from pro-Israel Democrats, the DNC held a floor vote to reinstate language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel that had been omitted from its 2012 platform. The stadium full of Democratic delegates loudly booed the resolution and rejected it three times in a voice vote, before convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa went ahead and unilaterally approved it (h/t BuzzFeed):

It’s hard not to have sympathy for Villaraigosa. Pro-Israel Democrats have been lobbying the DNC all day to change the platform, and convention leadership probably assumed this vote would be the end of it. The shock on Villaraigosa’s face shows you how far in denial the Democratic Party has been about the anti-Israel sentiment spreading among its ranks. Think he’s picturing how many TV ads replaying this moment Sheldon Adelson’s money can buy in Florida?

This video should chill every pro-Israel Democrat to the bone — actually, scratch that, it should chill every pro-Israel American to the bone. Israel relies on bipartisan political support from the U.S., it’s strongest ally. This floor vote at the DNC portends a day when that bipartisan support may cease to exist.

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Where’s Al Gore? Where He Belongs

Tonight is Bill Clinton’s much-anticipated speech to the Democratic National Convention, but as Politico noted this morning, a very high-profile member of Clinton’s administration will be missing his first convention since he left office: Al Gore.

Politico offers the reason–the country’s complete lack of interest in the global warming crusade–but gets the progression of Gore’s fading from the spotlight backwards. Politico writes:

Gore’s evolution over the past four years — from a central figure in the Democratic Party to a no-show at its biggest event — matches what has happened to the issue of climate change itself, which moved to the sidelines alongside its chief crusader, environmentalists and some Democrats say.

It’s not like Gore hasn’t noticed — and his frustration with Obama has been on display. He’s leveled criticism at Obama for abandoning the push for a climate change bill. He accused him of failing to use the bully pulpit to spread the word about the dangers of rising global temperatures. And he faulted Obama for putting off tough new smog regulations.

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Tonight is Bill Clinton’s much-anticipated speech to the Democratic National Convention, but as Politico noted this morning, a very high-profile member of Clinton’s administration will be missing his first convention since he left office: Al Gore.

Politico offers the reason–the country’s complete lack of interest in the global warming crusade–but gets the progression of Gore’s fading from the spotlight backwards. Politico writes:

Gore’s evolution over the past four years — from a central figure in the Democratic Party to a no-show at its biggest event — matches what has happened to the issue of climate change itself, which moved to the sidelines alongside its chief crusader, environmentalists and some Democrats say.

It’s not like Gore hasn’t noticed — and his frustration with Obama has been on display. He’s leveled criticism at Obama for abandoning the push for a climate change bill. He accused him of failing to use the bully pulpit to spread the word about the dangers of rising global temperatures. And he faulted Obama for putting off tough new smog regulations.

It’s true that as Gore’s discredited claims and hypocritical lifestyle were shoved aside by concerns about the economy, Gore’s presence in the media went with them. But Gore marginalized global warming as much as global warming marginalized him. And more specifically, had Gore been a well-rounded politician with a general grasp on a range of subjects who retained the admiration of his peers—as a vice president and almost-president should—he would never have disappeared from view.

Instead, Gore went from stolid but respected vice president to sidelined enviro-zealot building an invisible cable television station around Keith Olbermann (who has also since disappeared completely from view). That’s not a sad commentary on a supposedly indifferent public whistling past the polar bear graveyard; rather, it’s an indication that Gore gave up on serious public policy and has appropriately and expectedly lost the attention of the public because of it.

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Dems Turn to Explain a Troubling Platform

Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

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Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.

This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?

Democrats spent the day backpedaling and, taking a page from the book of party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fibbing furiously about getting AIPAC to sanction the platform. Nobody believed these assertions, leaving pro-Israel Democrats like Alan Dershowitz saying the decision was “deeply troubling” since “I don’t think it is a good thing that the Republican platform seems to be more pro-Israel than the Democratic platform.”

The divide between the two parties on social issues is well established and it is hardly surprising that Republicans would mollify conservatives in their document while Democrats turned their convention’s first night into a celebration of abortion as well as other liberal positions on social issues.

Dershowitz’s conscience may be eased by the reported decision of the party to reinstate the more pro-Israel text that had been in the 2008 platform. But the willingness of the Democrats to deliver a symbolic slight to the pro-Israel community at the very moment when they are trying so hard to stop Jewish voters from deserting President Obama was still telling. If the dropping of language supporting Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital and the designation of the country as America’s most important ally in the region was done at the behest of the White House that gives cold comfort to those who worry about what a second Obama administration will mean for Israel. More important, at this point such a move is a blow to the credibility of the election-year Jewish charm offensive the administration has been pursuing.

It is true that no Republican president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital any more than Obama has done. But the current administration has also done more to undermine Israel’s claim to the city than any predecessor. It has made an issue about the right of Jews to live in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods and considered housing starts there as an insult to Vice President Biden. Under Obama, Jerusalem has been treated as being no different from the most remote West Bank hilltop settlement. That gives extra importance to the platform language of the president’s party.

Even if we put this down as mere symbolism or believe the Democrats backtracking will silence their critics, it will provide some serious food for thought for undecided voters as we head down the homestretch of the presidential campaign. While the stands of the parties on social issues was never in doubt, the Democrats have just given wavering pro-Israel Jews one more reason to think about not voting for President Obama.

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Another Day, Another DNC Nazi Reference

In case you’ve lost count, South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian is the third Democrat to compare Republicans to the Nazis in the past three days. The State reported on Harpootlian’s comments during a delegate breakfast (h/t Dan Halper):

S.C. Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, never a loss for a quick quip, tossed a few stinging one-liners at the Wednesday delegation breakfast.

On Gov. Nikki Haley participating in daily news briefings in a basement studio at the NASCAR Hall of Fame: “She was down in the bunker a la [Adolf Hitler’s wife] Eva Braun.”

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In case you’ve lost count, South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian is the third Democrat to compare Republicans to the Nazis in the past three days. The State reported on Harpootlian’s comments during a delegate breakfast (h/t Dan Halper):

S.C. Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, never a loss for a quick quip, tossed a few stinging one-liners at the Wednesday delegation breakfast.

On Gov. Nikki Haley participating in daily news briefings in a basement studio at the NASCAR Hall of Fame: “She was down in the bunker a la [Adolf Hitler’s wife] Eva Braun.”

California Democratic Party chair John Burton compared Paul Ryan to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels earlier this week, and Kansas Democratic delegate Pat Lehman came under fire for likening the Republican Party to Hitler yesterday. While Burton gave a hasty apology before fleeing the convention for a dentist appointment in California, Lehman is standing by her comment, according to the Wichita Eagle:

Lehman says she’s not going anywhere and was wholly unapologetic about the outrage her comment generated among conservatives.

“They’re used to getting away with lying and nobody calling them out on it,” Lehman said. “When pigs get caught under the gate, they usually squeal.”

Is this a reflection of the state of affairs in the Democratic Party? Apparently delegates are under the impression that it’s totally acceptable behavior to call their opponents pigs and Nazis at the national convention. And why not? They’re taking the cue from the Obama campaign, which spent the summer smearing Mitt Romney as a felon and a murderer. It’s amazing how quickly the 2008 fluffy bipartisan healing rhetoric outlived its effectiveness. This year’s convention is fueled by contempt, and lot’s of it.

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A Victory for Anti-Semites in Berlin

The controversy over efforts by some Germans to ban circumcision has gone from bad to worse in the months since a Cologne court deemed the procedure illegal. Prosecutors have charged two rabbis for carrying out the procedure, though the one who was being investigated for merely saying he would on television is now to be left alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed that the country’s parliament will act this fall to ensure that it is legalized, but the discussion this vow has engendered has only complicated matters. That was made plain today when Berlin, one of the country’s 16 states in a federal system as well as Germany’s capital, issued a ruling declaring circumcision legal but only if a doctor performs it. This means that the brit milah ceremony — an integral part of Jewish identity — is still illegal and therefore constitutes a severe abridgement of religious freedom.

As the Associated Press reports, State Justice Minister Thomas Heilman said the measure was meant to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.” But the refusal to allow circumcisions to go on as they always have under the supervision of Jewish religious leaders and according to traditional ritual is a defeat for those seeking to end this controversy. Though the use of mohels may be protected by national legislation, the Berlin decision may serve as a precedent by which the country as a whole may limit circumcisions and stop their performance under traditional Jewish auspices by mohels. These limits are a victory for those disingenuously arguing that the practice is unsafe, and means future debate in Germany on the issue will be conducted on an uneven playing field for the Jewish community.

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The controversy over efforts by some Germans to ban circumcision has gone from bad to worse in the months since a Cologne court deemed the procedure illegal. Prosecutors have charged two rabbis for carrying out the procedure, though the one who was being investigated for merely saying he would on television is now to be left alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed that the country’s parliament will act this fall to ensure that it is legalized, but the discussion this vow has engendered has only complicated matters. That was made plain today when Berlin, one of the country’s 16 states in a federal system as well as Germany’s capital, issued a ruling declaring circumcision legal but only if a doctor performs it. This means that the brit milah ceremony — an integral part of Jewish identity — is still illegal and therefore constitutes a severe abridgement of religious freedom.

As the Associated Press reports, State Justice Minister Thomas Heilman said the measure was meant to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.” But the refusal to allow circumcisions to go on as they always have under the supervision of Jewish religious leaders and according to traditional ritual is a defeat for those seeking to end this controversy. Though the use of mohels may be protected by national legislation, the Berlin decision may serve as a precedent by which the country as a whole may limit circumcisions and stop their performance under traditional Jewish auspices by mohels. These limits are a victory for those disingenuously arguing that the practice is unsafe, and means future debate in Germany on the issue will be conducted on an uneven playing field for the Jewish community.

The effort to ban circumcisions, which has spooked hospitals throughout the region to ban the procedure, is being represented as a health issue. However, this is a thin veil for the prejudice against minority religions and non-German natives. The rulings affect Muslims as well as Jews, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that a willingness to both limit the practice of Judaism and offend Jewish sensibilities in this manner demonstrate that the rules about anti-Semitism are changing in Germany. Such a decision would have been impossible in the past, because any German judge or official would have feared to be associated with a campaign that reeks of anti-Semitism in the country where the Holocaust was perpetrated. But 67 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Germans, and especially German intellectuals who have bought into the demonization of Israel, have no such compunctions.

It needs to be understood that if the Berlin ruling becomes the national standard for circumcision for all of Germany it will be more than a blow to that country’s post-war tradition of religious tolerance. It will be the end of the revival of Jewish life in Germany. Chancellor Merkel must act quickly to spike this trend and ensure that traditional Jewish practices are protected if she wishes to avoid seeing her nation being labeled as a beachhead for the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Will Media Confront DWS Over Falsehoods?

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol draws a comparison between disgraced Senate candidate Todd Akin — who was promptly branded a pariah by Republican officials after his comments about “legitimate rape” — and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was caught misrepresenting comments from the Israeli ambassador this week:

Every important Republican was asked about Akin in the days following his comment. Will reporters ask leading Democrats whether they stand by their national chair, who has doubly lied about a matter of international import? Will any Democrats have the courage to call on Debbie to go?

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At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol draws a comparison between disgraced Senate candidate Todd Akin — who was promptly branded a pariah by Republican officials after his comments about “legitimate rape” — and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was caught misrepresenting comments from the Israeli ambassador this week:

Every important Republican was asked about Akin in the days following his comment. Will reporters ask leading Democrats whether they stand by their national chair, who has doubly lied about a matter of international import? Will any Democrats have the courage to call on Debbie to go?

Not only should the media press Democrats on this issue, they should also confront Wasserman Schultz. It’s not just that she was caught misrepresenting a statement by the Israeli ambassador, or denying that she made comments that were recorded on audiotape. Journalists should be even more concerned to see the DNC chair uttering blatantly false claims so casually, knowing full well that audio evidence and an objection from the Israeli ambassador could (and did) emerge to discredit her.

Will the media challenge Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats over her falsehoods at the convention? Or will reporters let her get away with something that RNC chair Reince Priebus would have been hammered over?

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Rise From Poverty, Don’t Glorify It

The motto of the Republican Convention in Tampa last week was “We Built It.” Speakers repeated the line (sometimes to excess), videos were played on the theme, signs and banners lined the convention center. By the end of the week, nobody present in Tampa could be unaware that during a speech earlier this year, President Obama claimed that small business owners didn’t build their businesses alone.

The GOP highlighted several speakers during the week that had inspiring stories of building small businesses out of nothing, who risked what little they had to build companies that would become employers. One speaker, Sher Valenzuela, appeared in the early evening on Tuesday and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Valenzuela and her husband (a second-generation Mexican-American), devastated by their son’s autism diagnosis, started a business in order to pay for his care.

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The motto of the Republican Convention in Tampa last week was “We Built It.” Speakers repeated the line (sometimes to excess), videos were played on the theme, signs and banners lined the convention center. By the end of the week, nobody present in Tampa could be unaware that during a speech earlier this year, President Obama claimed that small business owners didn’t build their businesses alone.

The GOP highlighted several speakers during the week that had inspiring stories of building small businesses out of nothing, who risked what little they had to build companies that would become employers. One speaker, Sher Valenzuela, appeared in the early evening on Tuesday and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Valenzuela and her husband (a second-generation Mexican-American), devastated by their son’s autism diagnosis, started a business in order to pay for his care.

Her husband learned his craft from a mail-order course while in the army, and took what he learned about sewing from this course and turned it into an upholstery  business that, fifteen years later, would employ more than 70 people in a 70,000-square-foot factory in their home state of Delaware. Her speech was inspiring and uplifting, exactly what the convention was hoping to accomplish with this relatively unknown candidate for Lt. Governor of a state they in all likelihood will not be able to win.

The next night, Paul Ryan also discussed his family’s rise from poverty. After his father passed away when Ryan was sixteen, his mother started a small business. He told the audience,

My Mom started a small business, and I’ve seen what it takes. Mom was 50 when my Dad died. She got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison. She earned a new degree and learned new skills to start her small business. It wasn’t just a new livelihood. It was a new life. And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn’t just in the past. Her work gave her hope. It made our family proud. And to this day, my Mom is my role model.

Many of the GOP’s speakers from the three nights of the convention spoke about their family’s humble roots and their rise not only to positions of political power, but also to the role of small business owner and employer. The latter, being an employer, was valued more than that of being a politician, and those on stage made sure the audience was aware of that fact.

Contrast this with the speeches last night from the Democratic National Convention. Two speakers, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and First Lady Michelle Obama, also discussed the poverty of their upbringings. The difference between their speeches and that of Valenzuela and Ryan was that while the Republicans spent the evening discussing their rise from poverty, the Democrats dwelled on their former poverty. Castro and Michelle Obama could have spoken about their first jobs, their struggles (and triumphs), getting through college, the successes they’ve made of their lives, but they chose not to. While they both honored their parents’ sacrifices, which enabled them to have better lives, they did not discuss how they or their parents achieved personal success. Neither Castro nor Obama discussed any experiences in business, and Castro measured his success in terms of holding public office, but never explained how he came to occupy it.

The contrast between these four speeches is remarkable and they set the tone for both parties and their conventions. The Republicans went to extraordinary lengths to showcase their commitment to small business, personal responsibility and ingenuity. Democrats spent the evening making martyrs out of the poor without ever encouraging them to reach higher than their government-sponsored lots in life. Republicans showed themselves to be the party of making the poor rich, and Democrats are the party of the poor. Which will resonate more with lower-class voters?

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Georgia’s Position on Iran Sanctions

Temuri Yakobashvili, Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, responds to my post from Monday asking whether Georgia was helping Iran skirt sanctions. Ambassador Yakobashvili writes:

“This is simply not true. The Government of Georgia would never allow this or be complicit in any effort to undermine international sanctions. Whoever claims to have seen Iranian oil being transported through Georgia was mistaken or misinformed. To the question of whether Georgia is helping Iran skirt sanctions, the answer is unequivocally no.”

I am grateful for Ambassador Yakobashvili’s response. While Iranian tanker truck traffic—and the explanations of transit fees offered by Georgians to recent visitors—is curious, the ambassador’s response to the question “Is Georgia helping Iran skirt sanctions” shows the seriousness with which Georgia takes U.S. interests.

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Temuri Yakobashvili, Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, responds to my post from Monday asking whether Georgia was helping Iran skirt sanctions. Ambassador Yakobashvili writes:

“This is simply not true. The Government of Georgia would never allow this or be complicit in any effort to undermine international sanctions. Whoever claims to have seen Iranian oil being transported through Georgia was mistaken or misinformed. To the question of whether Georgia is helping Iran skirt sanctions, the answer is unequivocally no.”

I am grateful for Ambassador Yakobashvili’s response. While Iranian tanker truck traffic—and the explanations of transit fees offered by Georgians to recent visitors—is curious, the ambassador’s response to the question “Is Georgia helping Iran skirt sanctions” shows the seriousness with which Georgia takes U.S. interests.

His statement regarding Iranian sanctions is definitive. If only other countries in the region—neighboring Armenia, Turkey, and Russia, for example—expressed the same seriousness of purpose regarding Iran and embraced the same pro-Western, liberal values, then the regional situation would be far better. It would also be better if the United States would make it clear to these countries, as this administration has not always done,  that friendship and loyalty matter.

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In Defense of the Poverty Narrative

By the end of the first night of the Democratic National Convention, many journalists and others watching these festivities and last week’s Republican jamboree had had enough. From both left and right there came a bipartisan consensus of kibitzers crying out for a halt to the endless stream of narratives about impoverished or difficult upbringings overcome by hard work and all the other all-American virtues that lead to success. Many a commentator noted that if they had to listen to one more sob story about growing up poor they would scream. Others facetiously promised that after the binge of Horatio Alger tales that they had been subjected to, they would support any candidate, whether liberal or conservative, who would avow they were born to privilege and had squandered a fortune due to laziness and indifference.

These understandable sentiments are the inevitable product of the repetitious nature of the speeches being aired at both conventions. Though Republicans and Democrats disagree on a great deal they all seem desperate to convince us they were born in the moral equivalent of a log cabin and that their emergence from their humble beginnings entitles them to our admiration as well as our votes. But as tiresome as this rhetorical feedback loop may be, we ought not to complain too much about it. The reason why politicians feel the need to say these things and why, despite our grousing about it, so many of us long to hear it, is rooted in our national identity. Social mobility is not, despite the efforts of some on the left to disparage the notion, a myth. It is at the core of what means to be American and though we may laugh about it, it is vital that we continue to celebrate it.

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By the end of the first night of the Democratic National Convention, many journalists and others watching these festivities and last week’s Republican jamboree had had enough. From both left and right there came a bipartisan consensus of kibitzers crying out for a halt to the endless stream of narratives about impoverished or difficult upbringings overcome by hard work and all the other all-American virtues that lead to success. Many a commentator noted that if they had to listen to one more sob story about growing up poor they would scream. Others facetiously promised that after the binge of Horatio Alger tales that they had been subjected to, they would support any candidate, whether liberal or conservative, who would avow they were born to privilege and had squandered a fortune due to laziness and indifference.

These understandable sentiments are the inevitable product of the repetitious nature of the speeches being aired at both conventions. Though Republicans and Democrats disagree on a great deal they all seem desperate to convince us they were born in the moral equivalent of a log cabin and that their emergence from their humble beginnings entitles them to our admiration as well as our votes. But as tiresome as this rhetorical feedback loop may be, we ought not to complain too much about it. The reason why politicians feel the need to say these things and why, despite our grousing about it, so many of us long to hear it, is rooted in our national identity. Social mobility is not, despite the efforts of some on the left to disparage the notion, a myth. It is at the core of what means to be American and though we may laugh about it, it is vital that we continue to celebrate it.

American exceptionalism is not just a foreign policy concept but also a fundamental principle of our domestic politics. The notion that any American, no matter what their parents did or where they came from, can reasonably aspire to wealth as well as to political prominence is what has also made the United States unique. Even as Europe and parts of the rest of the globe transitioned to democracy, the notion of caste remains strong elsewhere.

It is true that Americans are not immune to the siren song of inherited privilege. We love foreign royals and treat certain American families as if their last name was Windsor instead of Kennedy or Bush. We also know only that no one is guaranteed a shot at fame, fortune or power and that far too many fall short of their aspirations and remain mired in poverty.

Yet the reason why both Republicans and Democrats like to talk about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps is because it is not only possible to do so in America but that those who achieve such a success are not considered outliers, as they would be elsewhere. That’s why immigrants continue to flock to our shores. They want a piece of that American dream that earlier immigrants seized for their posterity. To the extent that we undermine the chances of the poor to do so by liberal social welfare policies that trap them in poverty and dependence and undermine their incentive to succeed, we not only betray them but our national ethos.

It should be noted that the most famous person to rise from a log cabin to the White House was actually disgusted by the way his supporters spoke incessantly about his origins. His most astute modern biographers note that Abraham Lincoln may have been elected as Honest Abe the rail-splitter but he spent his adult life trying to flee the abject poverty into which he was born. Members of social and political elites did look down their nose at him but he prided himself on his self-taught erudition as well as having become one of the better-paid members of the Illinois bar by the time he was elected president. Lincoln had to listen as his supporters carried on about the flimsy shelter where his mother brought him into the hardscrabble world of what was then called the American west, but such talk made him cringe.

We have come to primarily associate Lincoln with his inspired leadership and rhetoric during the Civil War and in particular with his role in ending the nightmare of American slavery. Yet it is a mistake to ignore the importance of his origins in the building of the Lincoln mystique. Lincoln truly had come from the lowest strata of American society at a time when the overwhelming majority of those in politics were to the manor born. His rise embodied the possibilities of the republic he led and while some still call it a myth, we know better.

Some of the men we’ve elected to the presidency in the last century were born to privilege and wealth. The Bushes, John Kennedy and the Roosevelts certainly qualify in that category and Mitt Romney would join their ranks. But more have not. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama all started out in life a lot closer to the bottom than the top rung. Some, like Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, belong somewhere in the middle.

Initial poverty is not a qualification for the presidency or any office and Americans have usually been smart enough to know that it is better to have a capable swell in the Oval Office than a fool or scoundrel born in a log cabin. But we ought never to stop celebrating upward mobility and the value of the individual effort that makes it possible. To do so would mean we were truly on our way to a social democratic model that valued ideas about equality but not the American dream. And if that means having to listen to tedious poverty narratives at our political conventions, so be it.

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Obama’s “Pro-Israel” Defenders

What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

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What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:

In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …

In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …

Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?

Obama checked the boxes. He did what he had to do in these instances, and not an iota more. Even the Iron Dome funding that Saban touts in the column was one of those “bare minimum” obligations. Financial backing for Iron Dome was part of a deal struck by President Bush in 2007, and Obama fulfilled it. What else was he going to do? Break the promise? Oppose additional funding efforts from congress?

Saban goes on to set up a straw man that the only real grievance Obama critics have is that he hasn’t visited Israel yet:

So what’s the case against Mr. Obama? That he hasn’t visited Israel since he was a candidate in 2008? Perhaps these critics have forgotten that George W. Bush, that great friend of Israel, didn’t visit Jerusalem until his seventh year in office.

It was actually Saban who complained that Obama hadn’t visited Israel back in May 2011, when he indicated he might not contribute to Obama’s reelection campaign. That apparently changed after Saban had a personal meeting with Obama earlier this year, and donated $1 million to Democratic super PACs over the summer, as David Frum points out.

A common complaint from Israel supporters is that Obama doesn’t do enough to show his feelings for the Jewish state. But that seems far less important than what he does behind the scenes. Out of the public glare, the administration has tried to water down Iranian sanctions efforts in congress. They’ve also reportedly pressured Israel against taking action on Iran. Obama backtracked on agreements between Bush and Sharon on the 1967 lines — and then adamantly denied this was a policy change. His administration quietly scrubbed mentions of Jerusalem as an Israeli city from its websites, and — when caught — frantically tried to scrub them from Bush-era documents while claiming this had always been the policy. Obama expanded the standard interpretation of a settlement freeze, providing yet another excuse for Palestinian intransigence. And the Democratic National Committee weakened the pro-Israel language in its platform this year, in order to conform to Obama’s policies.

Pro-Israel Democrats have plenty of reasons to support Obama — but none that have anything to do with his Israel policy. They can try to spin Obama’s record as much as they want, but at the end of the day they’re just lowering the bar for what it means to be pro-Israel in the Democratic Party.

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The Motive for Partisan Lies About Israel

As Alana wrote last night, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has now produced an audiotape of a talk given by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz that resolves the mystery surrounding her recent comments about Israel. There is now no doubt that, despite her denial on national television last night, Wasserman Schultz told a group of Jewish Democrats that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said, “that what the Republicans are doing is bad for Israel.” Oren says he never said such a thing and that denial is credible since, as he pointed out, Israel has good friends on both sides of the political aisle. That leaves us not only with the question of why Wasserman Schultz felt constrained to lie about it but why she ever made such a claim in the first place.

Wasserman Schultz lied about making the claim that Oren backed her ideas about the GOP because she probably didn’t know there was a tape of her talk and figured she could simply deny the truth. Perhaps she also thought Oren would not wish to contradict her publicly. She didn’t count on the fact that the ambassador is an honorable man and that it is not in his country’s interest to allow the Democrats to falsely portray him as taking sides in a partisan dispute. That DWS has been publicly outed as a brazen liar is a disgrace to her party, the Congress and the Jewish community she pretends to lead. But it is not terribly surprising given the vicious partisanship she has come to exemplify. Yet of far greater interest is the argument this lie was used to buttress: the claim that Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel is hurting the Jewish state.

DWS and other Democrats have sought to brand the GOP as dragging what ought to be a bipartisan concern into the mud of election year politics. This is an absurd and hypocritical charge that says more about their contempt for democracy that it does about their love for Israel.

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As Alana wrote last night, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has now produced an audiotape of a talk given by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz that resolves the mystery surrounding her recent comments about Israel. There is now no doubt that, despite her denial on national television last night, Wasserman Schultz told a group of Jewish Democrats that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said, “that what the Republicans are doing is bad for Israel.” Oren says he never said such a thing and that denial is credible since, as he pointed out, Israel has good friends on both sides of the political aisle. That leaves us not only with the question of why Wasserman Schultz felt constrained to lie about it but why she ever made such a claim in the first place.

Wasserman Schultz lied about making the claim that Oren backed her ideas about the GOP because she probably didn’t know there was a tape of her talk and figured she could simply deny the truth. Perhaps she also thought Oren would not wish to contradict her publicly. She didn’t count on the fact that the ambassador is an honorable man and that it is not in his country’s interest to allow the Democrats to falsely portray him as taking sides in a partisan dispute. That DWS has been publicly outed as a brazen liar is a disgrace to her party, the Congress and the Jewish community she pretends to lead. But it is not terribly surprising given the vicious partisanship she has come to exemplify. Yet of far greater interest is the argument this lie was used to buttress: the claim that Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel is hurting the Jewish state.

DWS and other Democrats have sought to brand the GOP as dragging what ought to be a bipartisan concern into the mud of election year politics. This is an absurd and hypocritical charge that says more about their contempt for democracy that it does about their love for Israel.

It is true that both Democrats and Republicans are strong supporters of Israel. As President Obama learned to his dismay last year when both parties cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to a joint meeting of Congress, there is a bipartisan coalition that stands ready to back the Jewish state even against ambushes set by a president of the United States. That consensus is a reflection of broad support for Israel by the overwhelming majority of Americans. But it is not maintained by silence or acquiescence when the leader of one of those parties picks fights with and seeks to undermine Israel’s government.

For the past several election cycles, the standard argument of Jewish Democrats has been to seek to quash any discussion of the issue, not because they truly feared that such a debate would damage the pro-Israel consensus but because any discussion is bound to center on the fact that there is a sizeable portion of their party that is not terribly supportive of the Jewish state.

Democrats also know that only one issue endangers their hold on Jewish votes: Israel. Most Jews are liberal and can be counted on to oppose the Republicans on domestic issues. But in the past few decades, Republicans have not only matched their rivals in their fervor for Israel but also often exceeded it. Moreover, in Barack Obama, Democrats have produced a president who is, in Aaron David Miller’s phrase, “not in love with the idea of Israel” and sought from his first moment in office to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state.

In any debate about how bad Obama has been for Israel, Democrats can make arguments about his preservation of the security relationship and seek to downplay the awkward moments he has produced. But that is not their purpose as DWS’s indiscreet lie about Oren showed. What they want is to have no debate about Israel whatsoever.

But far from strengthening the pro-consensus such a stance would be a harbinger of its dissolution. Accountability is the backbone of democracy. If a politician strays from his campaign promises on Israel the only way to keep them honest is to have an opponent make an issue of this betrayal. Indeed, the only reason why Obama reversed three years of fights with Jerusalem and initiated an election year Jewish charm offensive was his fear that he would lose votes to the Republicans.

Rather than resting on their laurels, Democrats need to be made to compete for the votes of pro-Israel voters. So should Republicans. Those Democrats who want to spike this discussion are doing so for the sake of partisan interests that they clearly prize more than the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus. The lies about partisanship merely betray how low they are willing to go for this purpose.

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Obama Speech Moving Indoors

Shortly after the Daily Mail reported yesterday that President Obama’s speech would be moved to a smaller, easier-to-fill indoor stadium due to inclement weather, the Obama campaign came out and vociferously denied it, insisting that the speech would take place as planned in the 74,000-capacity Bank of America Stadium “rain or shine.”

Well, not even a full day later, the campaign did an about-face. Obama’s speech will now take place in a 20,000-capacity indoor arena. Due to weather concerns:

Democrats are significantly downsizing the final night of their national convention, moving the events — including President Obama’s acceptance speech — from Bank of America Stadium to the Time Warner Cable Arena because of threats of thunder and lightning.

Mr. Obama was slated to accept the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night in the open-air football stadium before a crowd of more than 65,000. The basketball and hockey arena, however, seats just around 20,000.

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Shortly after the Daily Mail reported yesterday that President Obama’s speech would be moved to a smaller, easier-to-fill indoor stadium due to inclement weather, the Obama campaign came out and vociferously denied it, insisting that the speech would take place as planned in the 74,000-capacity Bank of America Stadium “rain or shine.”

Well, not even a full day later, the campaign did an about-face. Obama’s speech will now take place in a 20,000-capacity indoor arena. Due to weather concerns:

Democrats are significantly downsizing the final night of their national convention, moving the events — including President Obama’s acceptance speech — from Bank of America Stadium to the Time Warner Cable Arena because of threats of thunder and lightning.

Mr. Obama was slated to accept the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night in the open-air football stadium before a crowd of more than 65,000. The basketball and hockey arena, however, seats just around 20,000.

Note that the CBS News story above reports that the crowd at Bank of America Stadium would have been around 65,000 — not 74,000, which is the arena’s actual capacity. That 65,000 number is from the Obama campaign, which claimed yesterday that the stadium seats less than its full capacity for non-football events, for whatever reason. Sounds like somebody in Obamaland might have been preparing the media for seeing rows of unoccupied seats in case Obama gave the speech in Bank of America Stadium.

The 20,000-seat stadium will be much better for the president. Now the campaign will have an overflow crowd instead of thousands of empty chairs — which, after Clint Eastwood’s speech, would certainly have had an added significance.

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Julian Castro’s Dud: What Went Wrong

Democrats are feeling encouraged after last night’s speech from first lady Michelle Obama—and with good reason. She turned in a stirring performance, taking a speech that was well written and delivering it just as well, if not better. But the communications team at the Democratic National Convention should also be left wondering why some of the other speeches of the night fell flat, most notably that of Julian Castro, the San Antonio mayor for whom the unreasonably high expectations turned out to be a burden rather than spring board.

Part of the problem is that when you get compared to Barack Obama in 2004, you better be charismatic, and Castro doesn’t quite have the easy yet confident charm Obama displayed. Castro, like an actor who looks like he’s acting, was visibly working to produce what didn’t come naturally. Another factor was the general tone of the evening: whereas the GOP convention theme was that Obama is a good man but not a good president, last night’s DNC lineup was a particularly nasty string of speakers clawing at Mitt Romney’s character. In 2004, Obama showed an ability to speak above the partisan fray. Last night, Castro was just another participant in a one-sided cafeteria food fight.

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Democrats are feeling encouraged after last night’s speech from first lady Michelle Obama—and with good reason. She turned in a stirring performance, taking a speech that was well written and delivering it just as well, if not better. But the communications team at the Democratic National Convention should also be left wondering why some of the other speeches of the night fell flat, most notably that of Julian Castro, the San Antonio mayor for whom the unreasonably high expectations turned out to be a burden rather than spring board.

Part of the problem is that when you get compared to Barack Obama in 2004, you better be charismatic, and Castro doesn’t quite have the easy yet confident charm Obama displayed. Castro, like an actor who looks like he’s acting, was visibly working to produce what didn’t come naturally. Another factor was the general tone of the evening: whereas the GOP convention theme was that Obama is a good man but not a good president, last night’s DNC lineup was a particularly nasty string of speakers clawing at Mitt Romney’s character. In 2004, Obama showed an ability to speak above the partisan fray. Last night, Castro was just another participant in a one-sided cafeteria food fight.

But it was also the text of the speech. It started off well, with Castro telling poignant stories of his grandmother, noting that when Castro and his twin brother (who introduced him last night) were born, their grandmother paid the hospital bill with prize money from winning a cook-off. He told his family’s classic immigrant story, made all the more powerful by describing the Texas bootstrap culture they ended up in—a place where the hard work was only beginning.

But the speech quickly got bogged down in awkward phrases and unsteady delivery. Castro transitioned clumsily from describing the American dream and upward mobility to this: “And that’s the middle class—the engine of our economic growth. With hard work, everybody ought to be able to get there. And with hard work, everybody ought to be able to stay there!” And then, almost as an afterthought, finished the line: “—and go beyond!” From that, the paragraph veered into confused metaphors and clunky lines: “The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not unique to Americans. It’s a human dream, one that calls across oceans and borders. The dream is universal, but America makes it possible. And our investment in opportunity makes it a reality.”

And unfortunately with Obama in office, the DNC was never far from demonstrating the cult of personality that has followed the president since his presidential run four years ago. Castro, rather than offering ideas, served up one of the most cringe-inducing examples of it when he said: “We all celebrate individual success. But the question is, how do we multiply that success? The answer is President Barack Obama.”

And there were lines that were plain awful–not just cheesy, but bordering on the nonsensical. The worst example was this: “In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”

You can only elevate bad writing so high, and Castro was saddled with a speech few could have elevated to meet the expectations of the moment.

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Maliki Bests Erdoğan, Barzani

On December 19, 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi alleging that al-Hashemi had planned a wave of bomb attacks and had directed the assassination of Shi’ite opposition. The move unleashed a furious wave of political maneuvering, not only in Baghdad and Erbil, but also amongst Iraq’s neighbors, most notably Turkey. Interpol subsequently upheld the warrant against al-Hashemi, whose trial is ongoing even as Hashemi remains a fugitive. Almost nine months on, it’s clear that Maliki has come out the winner. Hashemi and his allies—Masud Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—miscalculated and face a growing perception respectively of weakness and fallibility among their home constituencies.

Erdoğan and Barzani’s embrace of al-Hashemi was a cynical and sectarian strategy. While Turkish diplomats still insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that Erdoğan harbors no ill-will toward Jews and Christians, Shi’ite and Shi’ite offshoot sects are another issue. Often, strict adherents to any religion exhibit more tolerance toward those of other religions than they do toward those whom they consider deviating from their own. Simply put, Erdoğan dislikes Turkey’s Alevis. Upon winning his first national elections, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) included not a single Alevi parliamentarian. He has since unleashed a campaign of discrimination, refusing to recognize Alevi places of worship, in some cases even threatening to tear them down. Alevis complain he is imposing Sunni religious education teachers upon their children. Like his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, Erdoğan will never accept a Shi’ite-led Iraq.

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On December 19, 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi alleging that al-Hashemi had planned a wave of bomb attacks and had directed the assassination of Shi’ite opposition. The move unleashed a furious wave of political maneuvering, not only in Baghdad and Erbil, but also amongst Iraq’s neighbors, most notably Turkey. Interpol subsequently upheld the warrant against al-Hashemi, whose trial is ongoing even as Hashemi remains a fugitive. Almost nine months on, it’s clear that Maliki has come out the winner. Hashemi and his allies—Masud Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—miscalculated and face a growing perception respectively of weakness and fallibility among their home constituencies.

Erdoğan and Barzani’s embrace of al-Hashemi was a cynical and sectarian strategy. While Turkish diplomats still insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that Erdoğan harbors no ill-will toward Jews and Christians, Shi’ite and Shi’ite offshoot sects are another issue. Often, strict adherents to any religion exhibit more tolerance toward those of other religions than they do toward those whom they consider deviating from their own. Simply put, Erdoğan dislikes Turkey’s Alevis. Upon winning his first national elections, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) included not a single Alevi parliamentarian. He has since unleashed a campaign of discrimination, refusing to recognize Alevi places of worship, in some cases even threatening to tear them down. Alevis complain he is imposing Sunni religious education teachers upon their children. Like his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, Erdoğan will never accept a Shi’ite-led Iraq.

To date, Turkey and many Persian Gulf Arabs espouse a “do-over” strategy toward Iraq, which would see the restoration of a Sunni Arab dictatorship over both Kurds and Shi’ites “by an Iraqi nationalist general who doesn’t have blood on his hands.” Many of these countries—and the Iraqi politicians they help sponsor—have been willing on one hand to castigate Maliki as a sectarian dictator and on the other sponsor terrorism and violence directed toward Maliki and the larger Shi’ite community, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Masud Barzani’s game is different. While Barzani has talked a good game against Baathists, he never hesitates to embrace them to bolster his popularity or pocketbook. Hence, in 1996, Barzani invited Saddam’s Republican Guard into Erbil to help push out rival Jalal Talabani (and the Arab opposition to Saddam). This is only the most famous example. The fact that Hashemi openly has sympathized with Baathists and sought to return many of the worst offenders to power is immaterial for Masud.  Barzani’s rivalry with Maliki comes down to oil revenue and disputed territories. By embracing Maliki’s rival, Barzani hoped to manufacture Maliki’s collapse and manufacture a deal which would benefit Barzani’s own oil claims. Into the mix, he sought to rally his own people with nationalist rhetoric, promising to defeat Baghdad and even hinting that he would declare Kurdish independence. Now, months later, oil companies waiver on Kurdish deals, Barzani’s promises ring empty, and he must negotiate with Maliki as a chastised politician. Masud might have pretensions to be a strongman, but he is increasingly ridiculed even in regional capital Erbil as “Balon Barzani” because he is full of hot air.

Maliki’s victory can be good for Iraq. Certainly, Max Boot and others are right that the United States should be wary of Iranian encroachments into Iraq. But it is absolutely wrong to suggest that all Shi’ites are fifth columnists. Most Iraqi Arabs are Iraqi nationalists, regardless of their sectarian preference. The growth of Iranian influence is a direct result of America’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, which has denied Maliki and other Shi’ite leaders the ability to preserve Iraqi interests by playing America and Iran off each other. As for Hashemi and his allies—including Ayad Allawi, a man revered in U.S. military circles but respected less in Iraq because of his reputation for laziness and overreliance on outside powers—the alternative they provide is potentially as deleterious. After all, Hashemi’s sympathy toward al-Qaeda is as dangerous for the United States as Baghdad’s flirtation with Iran.

With Maliki emerging victorious from his power struggle, it would behoove the United States to support him as he tries to restore order in Iraq, castigating him when his policies violate the norms of good governance and human rights, and assisting any efforts to drive a wedge between Iraq on one hand, and Syria and Iran on the other. As for his foreign critics, rather than try to subvert the only political leader who managed to cobble together a coalition after elections, they might better expend their energy ensuring that Iraq’s next elections are as transparent as possible, so whomever hold the premiership will forever remain accountable to ordinary Iraqis.

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Rabbi David Wolpe in COMMENTARY

Last week, COMMENTARY contributor Rabbi Meir Soloveichik spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. This week, the Democrats make it a double-dip of COMMENTARY authors by having Rabbi David Wolpe speak at their gathering in Charlotte. Rabbi Wolpe will give the benediction at the conclusion of the roll call to renominate President Obama this evening following former President Bill Clinton’s speech.

Rabbi Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California, is one of America’s leading pulpit rabbis as well as an author and advocate of great wisdom. As with Soloveichik, those who hear his words at the convention would do well to get a sampler of his work published in COMENTARY:

Why Are Jews Liberal? — A Symposium – September 2009

Mitzvah Girls – December 2009

Trials of the Diaspora – July 2010

Last week, COMMENTARY contributor Rabbi Meir Soloveichik spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. This week, the Democrats make it a double-dip of COMMENTARY authors by having Rabbi David Wolpe speak at their gathering in Charlotte. Rabbi Wolpe will give the benediction at the conclusion of the roll call to renominate President Obama this evening following former President Bill Clinton’s speech.

Rabbi Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California, is one of America’s leading pulpit rabbis as well as an author and advocate of great wisdom. As with Soloveichik, those who hear his words at the convention would do well to get a sampler of his work published in COMENTARY:

Why Are Jews Liberal? — A Symposium – September 2009

Mitzvah Girls – December 2009

Trials of the Diaspora – July 2010

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Ambassador Bows Before Dictator’s Statue

Conservatives castigated President Obama for bowing before the Saudi king and to the Japanese emperor. To be fair, President George W. Bush also bowed to the Saudi king; when it comes to Saudi Arabia, sycophancy is too often bipartisan. Nevertheless, it should be covered in Diplomacy 101 that American officials should not bow down before foreign leaders, let alone their statues.

Alas, that message seems not to have been transmitted to Richard Morningstar, the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. Azeri Report has released a photograph of Morningstar, a long-time diplomat, bowing before a statue of Heydar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan from shortly after its independence until his death in 2003.

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Conservatives castigated President Obama for bowing before the Saudi king and to the Japanese emperor. To be fair, President George W. Bush also bowed to the Saudi king; when it comes to Saudi Arabia, sycophancy is too often bipartisan. Nevertheless, it should be covered in Diplomacy 101 that American officials should not bow down before foreign leaders, let alone their statues.

Alas, that message seems not to have been transmitted to Richard Morningstar, the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. Azeri Report has released a photograph of Morningstar, a long-time diplomat, bowing before a statue of Heydar Aliyev, who ruled Azerbaijan from shortly after its independence until his death in 2003.

Azerbaijan is a trusted U.S. ally in a rough neighborhood, but such obsequiousness is never appropriate. Let us hope that any new secretary of state will inculcate U.S. diplomats from a culture that cultivates such behavior.

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Can Dems Rekindle Obama Worship?

The Democrats’ biggest problem this year is the failed economy that Barack Obama gives himself an “incomplete” on after four years in power. Their only way to overcome this is to somehow recapture the “hope and change” messianism that catapulted Obama to the presidency. In 2008, Obama wasn’t merely the Democratic alternative to the Republicans. He was the embodiment of the nation’s hopes for itself. His election was an intrinsic achievement for every voter since it reversed a legacy of racism and conferred a certain honor on everyone who took part in his elevation. More than that, he was a put forward as a near godlike figure that was above partisan politics.

Inevitably, the reality of Barack Obama collided with the messianism. Four years later, there is a noticeable drop in enthusiasm among the young voters and others who created the Obama surge. How could it be otherwise when the president’s conduct in office has been anything but post-partisan? Four years of massive government spending, liberal patent nostrums and business as usual have made his feet of clay all too apparent.

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The Democrats’ biggest problem this year is the failed economy that Barack Obama gives himself an “incomplete” on after four years in power. Their only way to overcome this is to somehow recapture the “hope and change” messianism that catapulted Obama to the presidency. In 2008, Obama wasn’t merely the Democratic alternative to the Republicans. He was the embodiment of the nation’s hopes for itself. His election was an intrinsic achievement for every voter since it reversed a legacy of racism and conferred a certain honor on everyone who took part in his elevation. More than that, he was a put forward as a near godlike figure that was above partisan politics.

Inevitably, the reality of Barack Obama collided with the messianism. Four years later, there is a noticeable drop in enthusiasm among the young voters and others who created the Obama surge. How could it be otherwise when the president’s conduct in office has been anything but post-partisan? Four years of massive government spending, liberal patent nostrums and business as usual have made his feet of clay all too apparent.

The Democrats have sought to counter this harsh dose of reality by stoking the partisan juices of their base with a first night of their convention that ignored the political center and stuck to efforts to appeal to the left. That meant a mantra of support for ObamaCare, gay marriage and abortion even though these positions are not only extreme but of doubtful utility in winning swing states where independents are key. But most of all they seemed desperate to rekindle the Obama worship that allowed their candidate to stride out in front of his 2008 convention amid fake Greek columns and promise to turn back the oceans and not be laughed out of the stadium.

That meant not just a routine pledge of allegiance to the president’s re-election from each speaker but a willingness to treat Obama as a magical figure. When keynote speaker Julian Castro acknowledged the power of individualism that Republicans celebrated last week with their “We built it” slogan, he countered on saying that such success can only be multiplied through the intercession of the godlike president.

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the best speech of the evening for the Democrats but her moving stories of the first family were not meant to humanize Barack Obama as Ann Romney’s did for her husband Mitt but to do the opposite. Michelle’s husband was portrayed as not so much an ordinary guy but as a superhuman creature that cares for all. She strained credulity by claiming he listens to all and cares nothing for partisan labels — an assertion that bore no resemblance to the arrogant man Congressional Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to deal with — but it was all part of an effort to go back to the stained glass image that was crafted for Barack Obama in 2008.

The incessant flow of Obama worship played well in a hall full of party zealots. The Democrats will also have the advantage of a liberal mainstream media that assisted in the creation of that false image four years ago and may be willing to go back into the tank for the Democrat. But getting the rest of the country to buy back into the baloney and to go back to swooning over the president is a more difficult task. The Democrats had a successful night in Charlotte but it will take more than a nightlong worship service to convince a majority of Americans that the “incomplete” president is still the god of hope and change they once adored.

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